The shared foundations of economic systems

Recently, I started thinking more about economic systems and decided to put my thinking about this complicated topic into words.

The economic organisation of a society is one of its most fundamental traits, and frequently, the differences concerning it are made out to be the most defining differences between societies. Here, I want to argue that all the systems that we can observe and could observe in written history were fundamentally patriarchal economic systems, making all of them more similar than often assumed. I will start by giving brief descriptions of these economic systems (mind you, I’m not an economist, so if I make mistakes, please, point them out). After describing them, I will give an overview of their similarities and will argue why they all are based on patriarchy.

An economic system essentially is how a society divides its resources, ranging from capital, natural resources, and the environment to time and labour. As soon as there are multiple people somewhere, there will be an economic system, because things have to be shared and divided somehow. That is, as long as there is scarcity. There is a great hope for the future that there will no longer be scarcity, but that’s something I will discuss at a later date.

The economic system we’re all most familiar with is capitalism. In capitalism, individuals own the capital, or the means of production. This can range from intellectual property all the way to heavy industrial equipment and everything in between. These individuals are the capitalists (although the term has gotten a different meaning as well, referring to those who are in favour of this system). In a capitalist system, the capitalist then hires labour, through the labour market. The capitalist pays wages, and in return for that, the worker delivers labour. This naturally creates a power relationship between capitalist and worker, one that is fundamentally based on the market. When there is scarcity of a certain kind of worker, their position becomes stronger. When there is a surplus, their position weakens.

One of the foremost goals of any person is to maximise their own benefits. So, naturally, a capitalist will want to pay as little as possible for as much work as possible. Workers are the opposite, they want to be paid as much as possible for as little work as possible (unless they’re a crazy workaholic like me of course). This frequently leads to clashes of interests. Furthermore, the power that employers have, especially over workers that are more available, means that abuse is frequent, along with all kinds of exploitation.

Exploitation however isn’t a necessity. First of all, because people are people, they’re not machines. They aren’t all alike. An employer can care for her employees, not seeing them as just cogs in a machine. Furthermore, there are workers in a position where they can easily switch to another employer, so they can make demands and are secure in their position. The however mostly concerns well-educated people and isn’t the case with less-skilled workers. But in general, there is a power dynamic between employers and employees.

The most frequently posed alternative is communism. In communism, the capital isn’t owned privately, but instead falls under collective control. Effectively, this means that it falls under state control. Another option is giving it to the workers, but I will discuss that separately. When capital is owned by the state, you no longer have the individual ownership with its advantages and disadvantages. The state then basically assigns people to work in a certain place. Idealists tend to want to do this without involving money, but that frequently is very difficult. Workers still need work in order to live, and the owner of the capital, in this case, the state, still needs workers to do the actual work.

Here, exploitation no longer is done by a private individual, but instead by the state and by the management it places. People are made to work, because, if they’re not, why would they do anything at all? Furthermore, the managers, as representatives of the owners, do have a power dynamic with the workers below them. Furthermore, you have an accumulation of power toward a certain group, and very little in the way of means to prevent that.

And then there is collective ownership, where the workers, together, own the capital. This generally is below the state level, and often means collective ownership of a farm, a factory, or what have you. This often is seen as a way to avoid the issues that a state-based communist system faces as far as planning and control are concerned. It indeed avoids some of them, but many issues remain. One of these is that there still has to be a mechanism for exchange between the different collectives, which requires either an overall level of control, by the state, or there will have to be a free market, as in a capitalist system, just with the workers essentially being shareholders.

that the workers are faced with a difficult situation where they essentially dilute their own wealth if they bring more people into the operation. It seems likely that they would rather not do that, or at the very least, demand significant concessions from those who join in. This can often be observed in partnerships, as for instance is common in medical practices and groups of medical specialists in many countries. New members often have to buy themselves into it, which can be very expensive indeed. A frequent alternative is that new members first have to work as a salaried worker for a given length of time, basically, paying with their labour in return for shares that presumably can’t be sold. If this isn’t done, it discourages investments and expansion, because that will often mean that there will be more people to share with, and the existing workers basically have to pay their own benefits (in whichever from they come) to do so, for the benefit of others. And if investments are made, they will generally be more aimed towards increasing productivity over employing new people.

Collectively-owned ventures also frequently need management. If only a few people found something collectively, this often isn’t the case. But let’s take a modern factory. You have hundreds or thousands of people working there. There is no way that all decisions and coordination can be made in a directly democratic fashion. So, officers have to be elected, and these will have a power dynamic with the other workers. Of course, they are answerable to the collective, but as we can see with elected officials in many positions, that doesn’t mean that they become paragons and perfect executors of the collective will. That is, if the collective isn’t exploitative already.

What has been discussed here of course is by no means an exhaustive list. There are countless variations on these systems and a multitude of others as well. But I’m writing a blog post, not a massive series of books. Furthermore, the issues with many historic systems such as feudalism are well-known (I suppose).

All of these systems have several things in common, but the one I want to focus on is the combination of power and exploitation. All of these systems include aspects of that. Of course, the extent and exact nature varies, but the fundamentals are the same. That is because the fundamentals of the society aren’t changed with different such systems. The great mistake made by many on the left is that they tend to blame all of society’s woes on the way the economy is organised. But they look beyond the far deeper issues behind why the economy is organised like it is, and why it can’t really be changed. Not without a true revolution in thinking.

This is because the foundation of our society, of virtually all societies in our present world, is oppression. This is not the oppression of workers by their bosses, but it is much more intimate. It is in almost every home. It’s the oppression of women. Men seek to suborn us, with their most fundamental argument being the difference in physical strength, which is the most fundamental kind of power. “You do this, or I hurt you, and I’m better at hurting you than you are at hurting me”. They like this, of course they do. Who wouldn’t like being the master over other human beings, to have them care for you and provide all sorts of services? They certainly like it, even if they often don’t even notice it, that’s how common and fundamental it is to our society.

This way of thinking, based on subordinating others, is in turn taken out of the house, into the economy. Furthermore, because men want to control women, they also need to control her resources. This means that it’s vital to have an economic system that is based on inequality. Even the communist approaches still contain this fundamental issue.

In the end, the most important realisation is that the economic and social systems are closely interlinked, and one cannot be changed without also changing the other. Because our world is patriarchal, all economic systems in it also are deeply patriarchal, even if they express it in slightly different ways.

In a later post, I will describe what a feminist economic system would be like, and how we could create one.

 

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A personal update

First of all, I want to say that I am really sorry for my recent lack of posts. One reason for this was that I have been preoccupied with getting a paper out (and succeeded in getting it accepted by a decent journal). The other reason is a much more personal one.

For some time now, I have been doing occasional volunteer work with refugees, with a focus on girls and women, and especially helping them with education which is the single most important thing to find freedom and a better life. While doing this, I met a girl (she asked me to call her Cleïs in any posts mentioning her). She was struggling with her blossoming feelings, and tried discussing them with her mother. As you can imagine, a girl trying to tell her parents that she’s attracted go girls doesn’t always go well. Suffice to say, there was a massive row, and because I for some reason seemed like an open-minded person to her, she asked me for help.

Naturally, I got in touch with social workers and all that, but I also talked to her parents. It took a fair bit of negotiation, but basically, as of today, I am the proud mother of a brilliant foster daughter, and as soon as the other arrangements have been made, I will officially adopt her. As you can imagine, this completely throws my life into even more chaos than it already was, and for the first time, I have actual responsibilities.

It’s just a short announcement, I know, but I hope to be a good mother for her, to give her the best possible future, and hopefully to give her a happy childhood after all the things she’s already been through. I also really hope that I can shield her from any issues coming from us being of different heritage (me being a rather pale Northern European and her having a more Middle-Eastern appearance). Starting next year, she will be attending a private school that, from what I could see, is almost completely homogeneous in that regard, so that has me a little worried.

Another big worry that I have is what it will be like for her to grow up, as a lesbian, in our current situation where lesbians are under attack from all sides. Of course, I will be doing my utmost to help and guide her, but still, things are really different now.

Now I just have to figure out something I can tell my family without getting into too much trouble with them. And of course, how I am ever going to not mess everything up completely.

Loneliness

One of the things that lots of successful women tell me, is that they feel lonely. This is one of the great taboos in our society and one of the big social issues keeping many women from making careers.

I’ve seen it far too often, women who really achieve something, but they don’t have any friends. Often, they start losing them once they start rising above the crowd, showing that they can be better, and perhaps worse, marking themselves out as different.

Because if there is one thing that a woman isn’t allowed to be in our society, it’s different. We aren’t allowed to be individuals, we only are part of a group. And we need this group, we have to be with others, to have a measure of safety. Alone, we’re vulnerable. Of course, in a group, with others, we’re still vulnerable, but less so. This means that it is vital to be part of a group. And to be part of a group, we have to be like the others.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where there are many pressures on women. All of society has expectations for us, and every deviation thereof means that we have to be punished. This punishment often is exclusion. We are expected to be silent, to be meek, to be a thousand things. But none of those things are being strong, being ambitious, or just being yourself.

This is why women often refuse to take the centre stage. Not only have we been taught since they were little girls that they should be silent, but they also know that if they do, they are excluded. They basically become un-persons, and even associating with them brings the same social punishment.

The reason why this is so strongly enforced is very simple. Nothing is as undermining to patriarchy as a woman who actually achieves something. Very frequently, in interviews, stories, and the like, you will see that a successful woman has to be brought down somehow, to make it not count. One of the favourites for this is to say that she is not actually a real woman by pointing out a lack of children. Another one that you encounter all the time is saying that she still is a woman, and likes womanly things. This is meant to take the sting out of it.

In comments sections, where those who write don’t rely on maintaining any kind of working relationship, you see others. When a woman appears on tv for instance, one of the big things that will be remarked on is her appearance. For men, this hardly ever happens unless they are truly exceptional. This attention of course almost inevitably is negative and hateful. By doing so, a woman can be reduced to an object, and an undesirable one at that.

One of the most fundamental needs human beings have is the need for social acknowledgement and friendship. If certain behaviours are punished by exclusion, human beings will naturally tend away from that. Of course, there are those with drives stronger than that, who are willing to face this punishment. But this means being lonely.

This can be broken however. That’s the strength of feminism. By accepting each other, by encouraging our sisters, we can create social spaces where those who differ can also find acceptance and friendship, making it easier for other women to do the same. It might not always be easy. To be honest, it isn’t. When you’re in a foreign city, lying in bed with a fever and there is no one who even thinks of visiting you, it’s not something that makes you happy.

But, through focusing on women, and by being open to our sisters, we can ensure that no woman will suffer this social punishment. And by doing so, we can work on taking the world.

An Open Letter to the BC NDP – The Feminist Current

To anyone who happens to be Canadian, this letter could still use a few more signatures.

Dead Wild Roses

Hey folks, go sign the letter at the Feminist Current to the BC NDP calling for a response to questionable actions of its VP.

This letter was sent to all addressees, via email, on February 2nd. A response was requested within seven days. To date, we have not received a response.

ATTN: The New Democratic Party of British Columbia (BC NDP);
The BC NDP Provincial Council;
Premier John Horgan;
Craig Keating, President, BC NDP;
Erin Arnold, Outreach Director, BC NDP Women’s Rights Committee;
Sheila Malcolmson, NDP Critic for the Status of Women;
Sheri Benson, NDP Deputy Critic for LGBTQ2+ Issues

Dear Sirs and Madams,

We — the undersigned — are Canadians deeply concerned with recent public statements and behaviour on the part of Morgane Oger, Vice President of the BC NDP.

On January 20th, Women’s Marches took place across North America. Initially fuelled by anger over Donald Trump’s election and…

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Life in plastic: not that fantastic

In our present society, as in many historical ones, the mutilation of women is fairly common. In Dutch, there even is the saying: “Wie mooi wil wezen, moet pijn lijden”, freely translated: “Who wants to be beautiful has to suffer pain”.

This unfortunately is all too true and in fact is strongly encouraged. This ranges from fairly common things like high heels (guilty of seeing a positive there, I do like being tall but they’re killing my feet), waxing, starvation, and uncomfortable clothes all the way to actually taking the knife to our bodies, just so we can look more like we are supposed to. We have to cut not only our breasts to enlarge them, but also have to get our noses shaved down, our faces have to be paralysed with one of the most potent toxins in the world (really, look up how much botulinum toxin you need to kill a whole city), our eyelids moved, our genitals cut down, and a whole lot of other deeply unpleasant things.

That’s what I want to focus on here, the idiotic cult of plastic surgery, to just come one step closer to some patriarchal ideal. Every time that I see a billboard for this, or that there is any other kind of commercial, it is appalling. People are basically shamed into paying lots of money to undergo surgery (which never is entirely safe), just to change how they look. And in many cases, the surgery doesn’t even work.

Concerning how large a phenomenon it is, this report is very illuminating. More than eighty percent of all surgical cosmetic procedures is performed on women. We can assume that the frequency of reconstructive surgery will be at least as high in men as it is in women, so the ratio for actual purely cosmetic surgery will be much worse.

Of course, reconstructive surgery is something else altogether. If someone has suffered injuries of some kind, I applaud them being repaired, so to say. The same goes with anything that is physically disabling. I mean, in those cases there are actual sound reasons to act.

But why should someone have surgery just to help their self-esteem? Doesn’t that place the problem somewhere else entirely, at the individual, while the problem generally is with society. And if it indeed is an individual problem, making it basically a mental health issue, wouldn’t actual mental health care be a million times better?

Fortunately, I have never had to undergo any kind of surgery, but I know plenty of women who have undergone it. In all cases, it was to be more like how they should be, to meet a standard. And very often, this is because of a standard set by men, enforced by men, and desired by men. The main reason seems to be men, which again shows the idiocy of patriarchy, and how pervasive it is.

We are supposed to do anything we can to improve our appearance for them, which only shows how much of a right society believes that they have to us. We are supposed to surrender every little bit of ourselves, we are supposed to go through a lot of pain. And for what? So we can get a man to hurt us even more.

Careerist

On many occasions, I’ve been called careerist. In a way, I can’t really deny the accusation. I am a bit of a workaholic and can’t stand laziness. Some of my exes have said that they broke up with me because I work too much, and of course, I am ambitious. I don’t want to be second-best, I want to succeed, and if things work out, I’ll have my own group in a few years, and depending on where it is, even a professorship to go with it.

In a man, this would be called drive, and he would be lauded for it by society. After all, when they work eighty hours per week, they’re heroes. When a woman does it, she’s a monster. I won’t deny that there are negative aspects to how I am, I can see them all too well. After all, it has wrecked several of my relationships (although I am horrible with that anyways and would ruin everything in another way otherwise).

On other occasions, I’m called obsessed with luxury. This is one of the things that I really struggle with, to be honest. I do like having nice things, but that isn’t everything. If it were, I would have quit science a long time ago, there are plenty of options with much better salaries so I wouldn’t have to do demeaning work by the side.

Another popular one is calling me an attention-seeker. But that also can’t be the truth. Of course, I want to be seen as the best. Who doesn’t? But if attention was all that I wanted, I would have focussed on my modeling, not on science. Attention is much easier to get that way. All it would take would be stepping out in public, and then getting into an almighty flame war when being even vaguely honest.

Or perhaps I just am someone who wants nothing but as many good papers as possible. Of course, papers are something that I like. I like the feeling of getting a good publication. But that doesn’t mean that it’s my only drive. It just is a nice reward for the work that I already enjoy. And besides, I see them as a means to get further, and as a way to show what has already been done. Not as a goal onto themselves.

The truth is much simpler than any of those things. I just like my work. In a way, it is my hobby, it is my calling. I don’t mind working through the night, because it is what makes me happy.

 

And yes, I want to get further. But not just for myself. As a woman, I have faced quite a lot of discrimination already, and I think that if I get somewhere, I can help others in my position achieve their ambitions.

Of course, I think that to truly change the world we will need a revolution, to truly get rid of patriarchy. But until that can be achieved, we can at least try to make the lives of our sisters a little bit easier.